Among America’s history of race and racism, one particularly ugly violent memory is the practice of lynching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. White mobs would often capture and kill Black men on false accusations as part of a system of racial domination and oppression. While lynching is often cast as a distinctly Southern problem, a recent article in The New York Times by sociologist Charles Seguin discusses how newspaper coverage in both the South and the North used racist language and symbolism when reporting on lynching incidents.
Seguin argues that work by activists — including sociologist Ida B. Wells and especially newspaper coverage on American lynchings around the globe — led to international embarrassment for the United States, questioning America’s image as an advanced nation and model democracy. With this increased scrutiny in the international spotlight, many Northern newspapers became more critical of lynchings, framing it is a shameful part of the South. As he describes,
“What these outside agitators — Wells, the British press and the Italian Embassy — accomplished was to embarrass the Northern newspapers, which eventually denounced lynching communities as barbarous and anarchic with headlines like “More Southern Savagery.”
Seguin’s article provides a rich discussion of how the intersections of racism, region, and press shaped the history of newspaper coverage surrounding lynching in the United States. Though Southern newspapers such as the Montgomery Advertiser have made public apologies for their role in racist coverage regarding lynchings, it is important to remember that this issue was not just confined to the South.